FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Family of the late Richard Ridley Jr. share memories of his legacy with WANE 15 Monday. Ridley was the first Black firefighter hired in Fort Wayne.
Ridley served the Fort Wayne Fire Department (FWFD) from 1961 to 1985. He passed away Saturday at 86 years old and was the father of eight children.
Ridley was not only the first Black firefighter, but he was also the first African American to attend Bethlehem Lutheran School and Concordia Lutheran High School. Condra Ridley, daughter-in-law to Richard Ridley Jr., said he was the oldest boy in his family growing up. She believes this helped him learn responsibility at an early age.
“Their family was also one of the first if not the first, one of the first African American families in the Lutheran church here in Fort Wayne,” Condra said, “So I think that already set him in place to be a person who could have handled breaking through barriers.”
Ridley was also an Entrepreneur who owned his own business. Condra said he had no days off. When he wasn’t working as a firefighter, he was running his flooring business.
Aside from his professional accolades, family members of Ridley said he was quite the family man. They described him as, a leader, innovator, and hard worker.
“He was a gentle giant, one of a kind person,” Nikolas Ridley, son of Richard Ridley Jr. said, “I haven’t met anyone with that amount of integrity, courage and genuine love.”
Richard Ridley III, son of Richard Ridley Jr., remembers his father as a man of integrity, and a pioneer for the community.
“He was an extraordinary person who was just right here on the ground with everybody else. He never elevated himself or put himself up above anyone. He was always accessible and available fair, loyal.”
The family said Ridley taught them how to be honorable men as he paved the way for not only them but many others.
The FWFD released a statement to WANE 15 in the wake of Ridley’s passing:
The FWFD mourns the loss of Richard Ridley Jr. He was a trailblazer who had the courage to be the first black firefighter and the foresight to know that it would make a better life for his family. He set the stage for the other “firsts” that have followed and by breaking down that barrier he made the FWFD a better fire department and Fort Wayne a better City.Chief Eric Lahey, Fort Wayne Fire Department